A line of students that stretched across the Main Green filed into Sayles Hall on Halloween night, buzzing with excitement as they took in the decorative cobwebs adorning the building’s balcony. The decorations come every year to Sayles, a key part of University Organist Mark Steinbach’s annual Midnight Halloween Organ Recital.
But this year’s performance, which included Frédéric Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre, Op. 35, No. 2” and a haunting Halloween classic, “Toccata con Fuga in D minor, BWV 565” by Johann Sebastian Bach, was different from previous years. Halfway through his performance Steinbach answered a solemn knock on the Sayles Hall balcony door. To the astonishment of the nearly 500 students in attendance, President Christina Paxson P’19 emerged in a witch costume, marking her first time joining Steinbach for the event, according to Steinbach.
Paxson wore a pointy witch hat and veil that nearly obscured her face, though her spectacles still remained visible. She arrived in a less spectacular fashion than Steinbach, who was carried into Sayles in a coffin and resurrected like a zombie by the attendees before beginning his performance. He emerged with a face full of white make-up with red, spidery veins drawn onto his hands.
“Darkness falls across the Green, the midnight hour will soon be seen,” Paxson said at 12:24 a.m., commencing her reading of a Halloween poem. “Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize Brown’s neighborhood.”
To the background tune of Steinbach’s organ, Paxson concluded her speech, took a bow and left the stage as smoothly as she arrived, receiving widespread applause and cheers from the audience.
“I was delighted to invite President Paxson to be my special surprise guest and collaborate with her this year,” Steinbach said in an interview with The Herald.
Student attendees were surprised at Paxson’s appearance at the event, noting that they had not expected her as the event’s guest appearance as they filed out of Sayles at 1 a.m.
“I thought she did a great job,” said Jake Kelly ’26 after the concert. “It was a joy.”
Melvin He ’25 echoed Kelly’s feelings and admitted his surprise at the “spooky” presidential midnight spotting.
“It was really a fascinating experience,” He said. “I did not expect CPax to come out. It was also a little bit spooky, and it was great to see the president.”
Francesca Mustain ’23 said that even though this was her first midnight organ concert, she “kind of expected” the president’s appearance because Steinbach had advertised a special guest at this year’s recital. “I thought it was going to be either CPax or Dean (Rashid) Zia,” she added.
“I love performing the Halloween Midnight Recital,” Steinbach said, “in no small part because of the students' great enthusiasm.”